I canvassed the coffee ladies on Monday morning and they told me that I should put our truffle in a box with eggs and leave it for several days. The scent of the truffe would penetrate the eggshells and flavor the eggs with truffle, and then I should make an omelette.
I had heard this before--I think Peter Mayle wrote it someplace --but I needed to hear it from practical English ladies in sensible shoes to believe that it was more than a story about the strange foodways of the French, that it was actually something you could do with a truffle. Monday night, while C was doing the dishes, I took out a half dozen eggs, put them in one of our finest Rubbermaid containers, and then popped in the truffle. (In the picture, it's the thing that's not an egg.)
C sniffed the truffle and raised his eyebrows. Do you think it's spoiled?
Of course it's not spoiled. I sniffed and amended my opinion. Surely it's not spoiled, I said.
It had a strong smell, like something that you'd dig up under a tree, something that may have grown there or that, possibly, the dog had left there and was planning to come back for. It smelled like a mushroom in the way that the lettuce for sale at the village market in July is like the lettuce I can buy now at the LeClerc hypermarché: like a mushroom, but a thousand times more so. The texture, the feel of the truffle, was a cross between a mushroom and what I imagine a preserved brain feels like. More firm than squishy, but with a definite squish factor, and lots and lots of little curly and squiggly ridges. We wondered what had possessed people to decide that these were food.
Then we put the lid on the box and, after some deliberation, put the box in the refrigerator. The question was twofold: whether to leave it out on the counter (eggs aren't refrigerated in French grocery stores), and whether the smell of the truffle would leak out of the Rubbermaid and penetrate everything in the fridge (in which case we'd have milk à la truffe, orange juice à la truffe, maple syrup à la truffe...). We decided to rely on our American instincts towards refrigeration and our trust in the impermeability of American plastics.
Last night I read around the web and through our cookbooks for a recipe for truffle omelet. Everyone said pretty much the same thing: do the egg and truffle in a box trick, then make an omelet. You could add some truffle to the omelet if you wanted to. After about the fourth recipe it dawned on me that I know how to make an omelet (or how to try; see below), and that this was ridiculous. (Overthinking, again.) So I took out the egg box, cracked the eggs into a bowl, sliced about a quarter of the truffle thinly into the eggs, added salt, pepper, and a little cream (it was in the fridge, and, why not, what's it going to do, make the omelette à la truffe richer?), and whisked it all together.
I made a salad and put the minestrone soup I'd made earlier in the week to warm on the back burner. Then I got out my great-aunt's cast iron skillet and put some butter in it. I wish you could have known my great-aunt, whose interests in the decades I knew her were ceramics, chain-smoking, Whitman's samplers, and soap operas. (But she always shared the candy, and turned off the television--at the next commercial--when we came to visit.) I've been told that she had been a good cook in her day, but by the time I knew her, her cooking days were over. I thought of her in her farm kitchen in New Jersey, standing over this same skillet frying scrapple, as I poured my eggs and truffle slices into it.
My plans for an omelet quickly became plans for scrambled eggs, as my lack of an omelet pan ran up against my electric stove that doesn't heat the pan evenly (and then there's the not-negligible question of my patience for fiddling, or lack thereof). So much for a beautiful, tall, puffy creation.
I divided the eggs between the four of us and put the salad and bread on the table. (The soup was the next course.) We all took a bite.
They taste, and I don't mean this in a bad way, like dirt. Like the earth, said E.
And they did. Like loamy, dark, fertile soil, the kind that you think is in your garden when you're ordering seeds from catalogues in February, when the soil you have is actually more comparable to those mushrooms that come in blue Styrofoam boxes wrapped in plastic. Their taste was mild, but also deep and strong.
Well. We liked them, was the verdict. Score one more for the French.